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Band has of luck the Irish

Friday the 13th was a good day for Irish quartet Maggie's Farm. That was the day the band, formed a few months ago for a St. Patrick's Day performance, recorded its self-titled album at a Bel Air studio, rushing to finish quickly and avoid hefty studio fees. The four hoped to recoup their costs for the 300 CDs they pressed, but were hesitant to wish for more.

The CDs sold out in five days.

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The surprise album sales are just one sign of the success the four have found. The members of Maggie's Farm, who started playing together at Mass at Bel Air's St. Margaret Roman Catholic Church, are discovering an unexpected popularity in the community.

"I never thought this would happen," said fiddler Meghan Jost. "It turned out far better than I expected."

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For guitarist Matt Thomas, just making the album, a collection of up-tempo jigs and reels as well as more serene airs, was a bit of a surprise. "As a kid, putting out a CD is one of those things you dream of," Thomas said. "The success of it is really sinking in."

After the initial run of CDs sold out, the band reordered an additional 400 - 200 of which are gone. Now the group plans to bolster that feat with live performances around the area, like the concert they will play at 8 p.m. Friday at St. Mary Magdalen Mission, 1716 Churchville Road, Bel Air. Although the show and reception are free, the band is requesting that concertgoers take nonperishables for local food banks.

The CD is significant in another way, too: Most of the songs are traditional works, but "Meghan's Tune & Jig" is an original piece pianist Tom Keesecker wrote for Jost to play for her grandmother. "Whenever we play it, I can see Meghan close her eyes," Keesecker said.

"I get into that one a lot," said Jost, who's the only band member of Irish heritage. "I think of all of my grandparents and my grandmother."

For her, the best stretches on the album are "the moments when you get lost in the music," Jost said.

The four members of the band, including bass player Randy May, knew each other long before they recorded an album. Jost, Thomas and May all began playing together at St. Margaret, where Keesecker is the music director.

Although the music at the church leans toward traditional hymns, Jost began taking Irish fiddle lessons while in high school, and the influence crept into the music at St. Margaret.

"I've been exploring it for a couple years in church. I might take a church song and arrange into it into a medley with an Irish tune," Keesecker said. "I call it LC - liturgically correct," he said, laughing.

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Keesecker, Jost and Thomas played a St. Patrick's Day gig at Looney's Pub in Bel Air. The job went so well they decided to take the band further, adding May on the bass.

The name refers to their religious origins: Maggie is a nickname for Margaret, Keesecker said. And to him, the church is a farm of sorts because of its role in raising young people.

Keesecker is still at St. Margaret, but the remaining three members are at college: Jost studies music education at Catholic University of America in Washington; Thomas is majoring in physics at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.; and May studies physics at McDaniel College in Westminster. The three will leave Harford when summer is over, but they plan to continue playing together as much as they can, with Thomas occasionally flying down for performances.

"We joke about how we'll have him quit school," Keesecker said.

Employees at Music & Arts in Bel Air have fielded queries about the band after putting the CD on the in-store stereo, said Mary Beth Collins, the store's assistant manager.

"It's very lighthearted, very classic Celtic music," Collins said. "It just lifts your spirits."


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